Tag Archives: trail running

Race Recap: XC “Dirty Double”

Background: I was supposed to run the Perivale 5 road race this Sunday – it has been an annual sojourn for my group of running friends for the past five years. However, this year not many Heathsiders signed up, and I didn’t fancy spending three hours on public transport to get to and from the race. So I decided on option 2: the arguably more challenging “dirty double” of Met League cross country on Saturday afternoon, and Sunday League cross country on Sunday morning. After a long week with minimal exercise due to evening work commitments, I was keen to try my hand at the double, and decided to combine my race reports for a bumper post! Read on to see if I regretted my decision…

Heathside ladies after Met League XC. Some missing. Photo from Emma W.

Race 1 – Saturday: Met League Cross Country in Uxbridge

Why pay £50 for a Tough Mudder when you can do this for free?

Goal: It was my first Met League XC race since February 2017, and I’d never run the Uxbridge course before, so I settled on my usual “under 30 minutes” goal for the 6km race. Also, after seeing the juniors tanking it in the river crossing (check this out if you don’t believe me!), I decided to focus on not falling over in the river, and generally not turning an ankle or getting spiked.

Race strategy: Run by feel and use the downhills. Be smart but not overly cautious in the river crossing. Breathe!

Weather & outfit: It had rained all night and morning and was grey and misting at the start of the race. At least it wasn’t too cold – probably about 12C/54F. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and cross country spikes (9mm, but 12s might have been better).

The race: We set off on a flat, muddy grass field. This isn’t too bad, I thought. It’s not as wet as the Ridgeway Run was! Pretty soon we started up a long, gradual slope. There were two of those in this race, and we ran two laps so faced the long hills four times. At least they were followed by long descents. I particularly enjoyed making up time on the descent after the short, steep “ski slope” hill.

Yes, this course had a ski slope and a river crossing that we had to contend with. Twice.

First time through the river crossing…

But back to the running. It passed in a bit of a blur. I felt anxious about the river crossing the first time, but managed not to fall over and got out of it well. As we neared the river again on the second lap, I estimated the course would be longer than 6km, especially as coach J called out around 5k that I had six more minutes to run. I’d been keeping half an eye on my splits but didn’t pay them too much attention since the course undulated so much. I did want to keep my average pace under 5:00/km, so that kept me going on tired legs.

I got through the river the second time and was soaked to the waist but I didn’t face-plant! After a few more twists and turns, the finish line was finally in sight and I gave the best kick I could. Unfortunately for me, a long-legged Ealing runner responded to my challenge and just nipped me at the line.

The result: I finished the longer-than-6km (my Garmin showed 6.67km/4.14mi) in 32:09 (7:46/mi, 4:49/km). I was 102nd of 215 female finishers – pleased to be in the top half of the field – and the 21st of 27 Heathside women.

Most Heathsiders before Sunday League in Trent Park

Race 2 – Sunday: Sunday League Cross Country in Trent Park

Back in action less than 24 hours later…

Goal: 1) Finish this race and complete the “dirty double”! 2) Run faster than I did last year on this course, which would mean mean averaging under 5:00/km and beating 39:09 total. After the Met League, I wasn’t so sure, but thought I could probably manage it.

Race strategy: Go out hard and try to keep going. Use the downhills to make up time. Try to pick people off one by one.

Weather & outfit: Even warmer than Saturday, at about 57F/14C. A hint of sun peeking through the clouds, but also some lightly misting rain during the race. I wore shorts, Heathside vest (yes I washed it in between races!), compression socks (placebo or real effect to support tired calves?), and my XC spikes. A lot of people wore trail shoes but I remembered slippery, sticky mud from last year so opted for the spikes.

Sunday League, Trent Park. Photo credit: Andrew W.

The race: I set off well and was glad to have spikes on for the first two kilometers, as we looped up and down a grassy, muddy field. 4:26 and 4:45 for the first 2k – not bad. Entering the woods, I was less satisfied with my footwear choice: my spikes grated on the gravelly paths. I tried to stay near the edges on softer, leafier ground.

The third, uphill kilometer was my slowest at 5:14, but I tried to make the most of the downhills in the next 2k to pick it up. I set a goal to keep clubmate Sif in range, and caught up to her around the 5k mark. I didn’t have enough in the tank to pass her or stay with her, though, as we started climbing again on the second lap and my legs complained about yesterday’s Met League race.

With less than 2km to go, I managed to pick my legs up and surge down the descent, although the final steep, muddy (spikes were useless at this point) hill nearly defeated me. My glutes screamed and it was all I could do to hold my position. I did somehow find a mini kick to pass one man just before the finish.

Last hill. Shattered legs. Photo credit: Andrew W.

The result: My Garmin had me at 36:47 for the 4.75mi/7.65km course (7:44/mi, 4:48/km). Somehow slightly faster than the previous day’s Met League race, even though the Sunday League course was longer! Either I didn’t run hard enough yesterday, or the river crossing really slowed me down. In any case, I was pleased to run this Trent Park course much faster than last year, and with a small negative split despite my tired legs. I was 169th out of 445 finishers, 23rd woman out of 171, 23rd/37 Heathsiders, and 7th of 14 Heathside women who finished.

Post-race: Cakes all around! A Sunday League tradition. I enjoyed one of Emilia’s delicious peanut butter swirl brownies. A latte and some yoga upon arriving home helped jumpstart my recovery.

Next up: I must get in a long run next weekend, then I’ll probably run the next Sunday League in two weeks’ time.


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Race Recap: Ridgeway Run 2018

…in which I traverse the trails of Tring for 15 kilometers in the pouring rain.

Some Heathsiders, pre-race. Still dry at this point. Photo credit: Louise C.

Background: The Ridgeway Run 15km trail race has been my goal race for a few months. I ran it last year as a training run and decided that this year, I wanted to be fit enough to race it. So I dutifully built up up my long run distance with Sunday club runs in August and September, and I’ve raced regularly over the past month and a half (maybe too regularly?). I’ve tried to incorporate hill/interval/speed workouts into my training and get in the gym for strength sessions. Two weeks ago, I ran my second-fastest 10k ever in Victoria Park. That gave me some confidence going into this race.

Goal: After the Middlesex 10k, I thought I could push for 1:15:00. As the elation of a fast (road) 10k wore off, I revised my goal to a time range: 1h15m to 1h20m should be realistic. On the day before the race, I was feeling tired and sluggish, not really in the mood for a long race in the forecast rain. So I revised my goal again, to: “faster than last year” (1:25:07).

Race strategy: It’s almost impossible to evenly pace a hilly trail race, so I decided to run by feel and use the flat stretches and downhills to make up time lost on the climbs.

Weather & outfit: The forecast was for 13C/55F and rain. Not just a chance of rain, but 99%-guaranteed autumnal British rain. I wasn’t sure how to dress but remembered it being cool up on the ridge last year and really didn’t want to get chilled due to the rain. I wore shorts, a t-shirt under my Heathside vest, thin arm warmers, and my trail shoes (Salomon Speedcross 4, in case anyone’s wondering. I love how cushiony they are, although they’re a tad narrow in the forefoot for me). The arm warmers were a last-minute addition and definitely the right choice. I’m also really glad I wore my trail shoes, as some people raced in regular running shoes and struggled on the slippery ups and downs.

The race: The rain seemed to be letting up as we walk-jogged to the start. Just kidding, the weather gods seemed to say, as it started raining harder as we were briefed and sent off up the lane promptly at 10:00. The first 1.5km are on paved lanes and I was pleased to tick off a 4:54 first kilometer. I tried to leap around the big, deep puddles for a few minutes, but eventually they were hard to avoid and I was pretty much soaked through already, so what difference would wet feet really make?

We entered the woods after crossing a road and that’s where the trails started. An ascent in the third kilometer meant I slowed right down to 5:42 pace (see elevation profile below). We emerged onto the edge of a golf course and it started raining harder: all I could do was laugh joyously and think of the scene in the rain from Pride and Prejudice. I’m not sure how that popped into my mind, but maybe being out in the countryside put me in a Jane Austen frame of mind.

But back to the race: I had a swift fourth kilometer, net downhill in the pouring rain. A man passed me at some point and warned of a steep hill coming up. I had forgotten how long and painful that fourth-kilometer hill was last year, but ouch. 6:36. I was pleased to run the first 5km in 27:15, though, about two minutes faster than last year.

Kilometers 5-9 are my favorite part of the Ridgeway Run. They go through the woods on wide trails, and it’s relatively flat all along. I had a Serpentine runner and two Leighton Fun Runners pushing me along on this section. The motivation helped, especially as we passed the halfway point: kilometers 8 and 9 in 4:52 and 4:59.

Emerging onto the exposed ridge (think sideways driving rain), the 10th kilometer felt so hard. I took a gel around this time but my legs felt leaden slogging up the steep, grassy hill and into the mist on top. My energy flagged until we entered the woods, when I had to refocus in order to avoid tripping over roots and slipping on leaves. My 13th kilometer was the fastest of the race – 4:33 – in part because a heavily-treading man was right on my heels for the entire narrow descent. It was somewhat annoying, but it did push me to keep going!

The last section of the race is a seemingly endless two kilometers back to the clubhouse on paved roads. My glutes and lower back were not happy, and it was all I could do to stay under 5:00/km pace. Come on, you can make it under 1:20:00. Use your arms. Breathe. You’re almost there. I had to pause briefly before crossing the road, then picked it up for the final grassy stretch of 100m or so to the finish.

Not an easy elevation profile!

The result: I finished the 15k trail race in a chip time of 1:19:04 (8:28/mi, 5:19/km), coming 23rd woman of 209 and 128th overall of 473 finishers. I’m really pleased with my time: it was faster than last year and within my goal time range despite the conditions. As a bonus, I was part of the first three Heathside women (after Emily and Louisa) that won first women’s team prize! Two other women also bagged age group prizes. Overall, not a bad performance for the Heathside contingent.

The Ridgeway Run reminded me that there is something magical about trail running. It was absolutely glorious to be out in the middle of nature, not a house in sight, with intrepid, like-minded people running the race or out walking their dogs in spite of the weather. During the race, I reflected on how remarkable it is that we can travel so far on our two feet. We are fortunate, indeed.

Post-race: I collected my race shirt then headed to the changing rooms to peel off my soaked running clothes, wash the mud off my legs, and attempt to dry off enough to put clean clothes on. Caroline and I got tea and I shared these flapjacks (without chocolate this time) around before we headed home.

Next up: I’m not actually sure! This was my goal race for this training cycle. I think I’ll take it easy for a few weeks then think about what’s next…maybe some cross-country?


Race Recap: Trent Park Triffic Trail 2018

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Some Heathsiders pre-race. Photo credit: Sif S.

Background: F and I ran the Triffic Trail in Trent Park last year and enjoyed the change of scene from the usual road runs, so I signed us up again this year. Unfortunately, F came down with a bad virus mid-week, so he wasn’t able to run. I’d run the Adidas City Runs 1 Hour the weekend before and had a busy week leading up to the Triffic Trail but decided to go along anyway.

Goal: My speedwork has been lacking recently, but having raced for an hour the previous weekend I knew I could finish 10k in a decent time. I had run last year’s Triffic Trail in 49:44, so my general goal was to beat that time. I wasn’t really in a “racing” mood but pledged to enjoy running somewhere different, and on trails.

Race strategy: Go out steady, around 5:00/km (50-minute 10k pace), then try to negative split. My usual 10k strategy! I remembered the course as undulating with a few long, gradual uphill sections, so I was prepared to throw my strategy out the window and run by feel instead of pace.

Weather & outfit: Warm and sunny, around 20C/68F. I wore shorts and my Heathside vest with sunglasses and sunscreen. I was on the fence about what shoes to wear, but in the end went for my trail shoes – it was a trail race, after all! I probably didn’t need them as it was so dry – most people ran in regular trainers – but was glad to have them for a bit of extra stability on the gravelly sections.

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Post-race. Photo credit: Sif S.

The race: I’m getting more comfortable running a faster first 1-2km and then settling into a steadier pace. Perhaps it’s not the most even pacing strategy, but a swift start gets my legs working and gets me into race mode. On this course, it also helped that the first 2km were mainly flat and downhill. Use the flat parts while you can, I told myself, remembering that there would be plenty of uphills to come.

After a slow third kilometer (climbing), I picked it up for the next 2km and reached 5km in 24:40, just as we emerged into the grassy, exposed section of the course. It was bright and hot but I saw Caroline not far ahead and gradually caught up with her. Kilometer 6 was uphill again, which didn’t help the mid-race slump, but I told myself to be patient and wait a bit longer before pushing too hard.

The 7th and 8th kilometers were my favorite part of the race: flattish and then downhill, with a refreshing water stop in the middle. Come on, use this downhill – remember that the last 2km will be mostly uphill so bank some time while you can. My 8th kilometer was my fastest of the race, at 4:38. The next to last kilometer was the hardest: uphill and almost but not quite there. I squeaked through in 4:58.

One kilometer to go. Seeing Nilesh up ahead, I dug in and willed my legs to keep moving and my heart and lungs to keep working. Almost there.

Turning on to the brutally long final stretch – a straight 500m on grass – I passed Nilesh and tried not to slow down. It felt like running through molasses (treacle, for the UK-speakers). Only with about 10 meters to go did I squeeze out a tiny kick to stay ahead of the man sprinting up behind me. Finished!

Not a bad goody bag! (Iced coffee not included)

The result: Chip time of 48:46 (7:52/mile, 4:53/km). A small negative split, and almost a minute faster than last year. The conditions were tough out there, and the course is not easy (according to Strava, I spent 17:34 climbing; that’s 36% of the race). The shady bits in the woods were lovely, but there was hardly any breeze and it was dry and dusty, especially on the gravelly parts of the course.

I came 103rd out of 481 finishers, was 16th woman out of 184 and the 15th Heathsider of 23.

Post-race: Enjoyed a slice of watermelon, posed for some Heathside pictures, picked up my t-shirt and goody bag. Sif shared some delicious chocolate covered raisins on the way back, and I treated myself to an iced coffee upon returning to Crouch End.

Next up: A 5k on the track in a couple of weeks…better get some speedwork in before that!


Year in Review: 2017

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr! З Новим Роком!

I haven’t written a “year in review” since the end of 2014, but this year I felt the desire to do so as 2017 becomes 2018. While there are plenty of awful things that happened globally in 2017 – politically, environmentally, etc. – I would like to focus on the more personal positives in this post.

Running and fitness in 2017:

On the way to a 5-mile PB at the Perivale 5, Dec 2017. Photo credit: Bespoke Photos.

  • Distance run: Strava tells me that in 2017 I ran 973.1km =  604.66mi. This is about 39 more miles than in 2016, so I’ll take that as a slight improvement.
  • The first half of the running year wasn’t great, as I had a really nasty virus over the Christmas holidays so had a slow return to fitness in early 2017. I had a brief return to the track in the summer before developing some plantar fasciitis. Since then, I’ve focused on building up my fitness base with tempo work and longer runs. That has seemed to work, as in fall/winter I ran my fastest 10k since 2015 and a 5-mile PR/PB!
  • In 2017 I discovered how much I love trail running/racing. Now that I have invested in trail shoes, I hope to do more trail running in 2018. I ran in Trent Park for the first time and loved it.
  • Racing (running):
  • Distance cycled: 2,760.3km = 1,715.17mi of commuting to/from work in London. About 200km/124mi more than in 2016.

Favorite books read in 2017:

  • In 2017 I read about 21 books. I didn’t love everything I read but here are some books that have stuck with me after finishing them:
  • Tracy Chevalier, At the Edge of the Orchard. I’ve loved Chevalier’s writing ever since reading Girl with a Pearl Earring as a teenager. Chevalier also happens to be an Oberlin graduate and I was fortunate to see her speak when I was in college. At the Edge of the Orchard is a historical novel of migration to the American West during the Gold Rush in the 1840s and ’50s. The human characters are interesting but much of the novel is actually about trees: apple orchards and then California’s redwoods and giant sequoias. It has really stuck with me and I’ve recommended it to a number of people.
    • I also read Chevalier’s newest novel, New Boy, this year. It’s a chilling retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello set on a school playground and I’d recommend it to any English teachers for their students to read alongside the original play.
  • Somehow in all my study of English literature, I had never read Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. My parents recommended it to me after reading it for their book club a couple of years ago, and I was impressed with this early detective novel. It has all the good stuff – missed messages, mistaken identities, charming villains – while remaining accessible even for those who aren’t used to reading 19th-century novels.
  • I absolutely love Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series (the first one is called The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) and this year I read the seventh and eighth books back to back. Every time I open a Russell-Holmes novel, it feels like coming home. Something about King’s writing style just sits well with me. The novels are at once historically dense, character-driven, and detailed but not slow-moving. My dad first got hooked on the series years ago, and I would recommend it to anyone who, to use Netflix-speak, enjoys “historical novels with a strong female lead”. There’s also plenty of mystery and detective work involved!
  • I loved Robin Hobb’s 4-book series, The Rain Wild Chronicles, recommended by a fellow choir singer. Hobb creates a fascinating and robust fantasy world – realist but with touches of the magic and mythical – and tells a good story.
  • Rachel Sieffert, A Boy in Winter. A poignant WWII novel set in a small Ukrainian town. Sad but beautifully written and worth reading for a slightly different perspective.
  • Darragh McKeon, All that is Solid Melts into Air. Wow was this good. A close family friend – my Belgian “aunt” – recommended it and I loved it. It’s set in Soviet Ukraine/Russia/Belarus in the late 1980s around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The shifting perspectives never felt jarring and it’s quite timely, despite being a historical novel. Highly recommended.
  • F and I finished reading Walter Moers’ Die 13 1/2 Leben des Käpt’n Blaubär, an epic fantasy-type novel that we took turns reading aloud. It helped my German a lot and was good fun! I also finished a book of short stories in German – Karen Köhler’s Wir Haben Raketen Geangelt – that were almost all depressing but I loved the writing style and it was accessible enough for me to understand most of what was going on.

Other highlights & achievements, in no particular order:

  • Singing Bach’s St John Passion in English with the Crouch End Festival Chorus and Bach Camerata at St John Smith’s Square in central London.
  • Visiting my close friend Hannah in Bulgaria, where she’s working as a Fulbright ETA.
  • Spending a lovely long weekend with F in Bath.
  • Family and friends descending on London for our post-wedding celebration in July. It was lovely to have a casual party in a local pub and that so many people made the effort to come from near and far.
  • Spending a week walking in the Cotswolds with F. We stayed in a little AirBnB in the village of Longborough and spent each day walking a different loop, stopping for pub lunches and enjoying our escape from big city life.
  • After three years teaching ESOL to migrant women at a charity in Tower Hamlets, I got a new job at a charity in Hackney. I’m still teaching ESOL mainly in Tower Hamlets but also learning about and sharpening my skills in project management and partnerships. It was hard to leave my old team – a close-knit group of amazing women – but it was the right move to make and I’m enjoying my new role. It’s also interesting to see how two charities in the same sector operate quite differently.

Cotswolds walking

I’m not big on resolutions but my main intention for 2018 is, as usual, to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and other things. We hope to travel a bit more this year and I’d like to build up my running mileage to 10-mile or even half marathon fitness.

In some blog-related reflecting, here is a listicle of of my top posts via views in 2017:

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2018

Race Recap: Ridgeway Run (15k trail race)

Not bad for a Sunday run

I was on my club‘s 10am Sunday long run a month or so ago, chatting to a fellow runner about our training and upcoming races (as one does on long group runs). She mentioned that she was signed up for the Ridgeway Run, a 15km trail race, in October. She raved about the scenery enough that I went home and registered for it. Having done a 15km long run the week before, I was feeling confident about the distance.

As the Ridgeway Run approached, I did one or two more 12-15km long runs but nothing crazy; plus, my knees started acting up. I decided to treat Ridgeway as a training run and extra-long preparation for cross country season. Given recent niggles and being two weeks into a new job, my goals were to enjoy the run and finish without too much knee or foot pain.

The course near Tring consisted of one big loop with a little out-and-back tail at the beginning and end. I knew it would be hilly and was warned that the last couple of kilometers on the road felt endless.

Single-file at the beginning

Ten o’clock came and we were off onto the trails! As you can see from the photo above, the early stages were on narrow trails, where we had to go single file. The line of runners moved along well, though. I was pleased to go through the first kilometer in 5:10, but I told myself to take it easy, as there were still many kilometers to go. Soon, we came out and paralleled a golf course for a while (see photo at the top) before re-entering the trees and starting a gradual but longish climb. I did keep running, but not particularly fast (see kilometer 5 – 6:52 and my slowest of the race).

Through 5km in around 29:00, I decided to keep enjoying the run but to try to finish under 1.5 hours. Kilometers 6 to 8 went through a lovely wooded section, and just around 9km we emerged onto the race’s namesake: the ridge (see above). The view was absolutely stunning. Sky for miles, autumnal trees, green grass…oh, to live in the countryside!

A gradual descent led us to a photographer, a water stop, and a short, steep uphill. I walked up the hill while sipping my water and having a bit of gel. No shame — I was running for enjoyment and fitness, not time.

After the steep ascent, it was pretty much downhill for the last 4-5 kilometers. I enjoyed the quick descent through the woods and emerged back onto the paved road with some spring in my step. My knees hurt but I gritted my teeth and pushed through for a few quick kilometers — they did feel endless! — to finish in 1:25:07 (5:40/km, 9:22/mi). Not my fastest, but highly enjoyable and a good pace for a longer training run. I was 246th out of 536 finishers, and the 46th of 215 women who finished. Post-race, I shared around my lemon cornmeal cake, which was well-received by the Heathside contingent.

Heathsiders post-race.

In sum, the Ridgeway Run was a well-organized event with a low entry fee, lots of marshals and support along the course, technical t-shirts (they even had size XS), on-demand chip times, and free race photos. I would highly recommend it!

Race Recap: Triffic Trail 10k, Trent Park

Following closely on the heels of Thursday’s Golden Stag Mile, on Sunday I took part in the Triffic Trail 10k in Trent Park. I had heard good things about this race from fellow Heathsiders so was looking forward to it. Remembering how F enjoyed last September’s trail 10k on the Heath, I convinced him to sign up and join me. What a good sport! He returned from a work trip to Boston the day before and, despite his jet lag, gamely got up with me on Sunday morning for a bit of trail running.

Gazing towards the greenery

I’d never been to Trent Park, and it is a treat: undulating terrain varying from grassy to gravelly to woodsy with a bit of pavement thrown in. Rolling hills and loads of space to enjoy some peace and quiet. As we started the race, I registered how much quieter it was than a road race — there was hardly any external noise of cars, sirens, etc. Just a few hundred runners peacefully enjoying the trails, with the occasional cheering marshal or group of supporters.

Pre-race with Alice and Tom

I find trail races to be less stressful than road races, in part because I don’t run them as often (with the exception of cross country). Plus, trail race times can’t really be compared with road races times — much less pressure! I was hoping to enjoy the race and push a bit if I felt good.

F and I set off together and ran the first kilometer in a brisk 4:38. Tom, a fellow Heathsider, joined our mini pack and we ran alongside each other for the second kilometer. For the next few kilometers, Tom and I swapped places and kept each other going: he’d pass me on uphills, I’d catch him on the downhills. Through the 5k in 24:48, fatigue started setting in as I realized there were still 5k to go! I couldn’t keep up with Tom on the next uphill, so let him go.

My 6th kilometer was the slowest of the race at 5:37, but I managed to run through the slump and make up some time on the downhills. F was not more than a few steps behind me for most of the race, which really motivated me to keep running! I was tiring at 8km but F pushed me up the last gradual uphill and then there was only 1km to go. The last 800m or so was a long, grassy straight with uneven footing that, with a headwind, felt endless. I didn’t have much at all to kick but managed to come in under 50:00, in a chip time of 49:44 (8:01/mile, 4:58/km) — very pleased with that!

Heathsiders post-race. Photo credit: Satu’s phone

There was a good contingent of Heathsiders at the Triffic Trail 10k and some great results. The weather was partly cloudy and not too warm, and the goody bags and t-shirts were solid (except for those weird cinnamon soft drinks…). All in all, a great event and highly recommended!